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Utterly Unbiased Top 25: Big Ten’s Revenge

[airesizeimg src=”http://ngscsports.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/940x.jpg” alt=”Big Ten Championship Football” class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-6574″ ]

IF THERE WAS a theme to this past weekend in college football, it was “Revenge of the Big Ten.”

No conference has been more maligned this season than the Big Ten, thanks to some ugly early season performances by its standard bearers – the two Michigan schools, Ohio State and Wisconsin – and some just plain ugly behavior from league newbie Rutgers.

But this past weekend, the league went a whopping 12-1 (Ohio State had a bye) with the lone loss coming at Michigan, where the Wolverines were handled by Utah (more on the Utes later) 26-10.

Michigan State made a triumphant return to our rankings this week by crushing one of the weaker directional Michigan schools and while that’s not necessarily impressive, it is Oregon’s continued presence in the upper echelons of our rankings that lends some cachet to the Spartans’ lone defeat.

Unheralded Indiana was responsible for the league’s most surprising win when the Hoosiers went into Columbia and stunned Missouri 31-27. There was little reason to believe a team that had lost to Bowling Green (giving up 45 points in the process) had any chance of winning at the defending SEC East champions’ house. We’re now officially tracking Indiana on our radar.

Let’s see what Indiana can do with that confidence-builder heading into this week’s showdown with Maryland, another Big Ten upstart. The winner of that game could crack our rankings next week.

It was nice to see the mainstream polls finally catch on to something we at the UU Top 25 have been aware of for some time now – Mississippi State and East Carolina can play some ball. The Bulldogs cracked the AP Top 25 with a sizzling debut at No. 14 after stunning LSU 34-29 at Death Valley. That makes us LOL, of course, because we had the Bulldogs at No. 15 entering the week. Now they are in our Top 10.

East Carolina cracked our rankings last week with a win at Virginia Tech and while the Hokies seem determined to make their stirring victory at Ohio State utterly irrelevant by tripping all over themselves in the weeks since, the Pirates obliterated previously unbeaten North Carolina 70-41 to climb to No. 16 in our ranks.

Arkansas, Utah and Georgia Tech all make debuts this week while the Spartans make a triumphant return. We’re liking what we see out of the Razorbacks and Utes but Georgia Tech is still a bit of a puzzler. For now, we’ll give the Jackets credit going into Blacksburg and beating the Hokies, but Virginia Tech’s play from here on out could weaken Georgia Tech’s resume.

Others we are tracking include Marshall (4-0), Oregon State (3-0), Wisconsin (2-1), Washington (4-0), Arizona (4-0), Rutgers (3-1), Maryland (3-1) and Iowa (3-1). Should N.C. State be a part of this group as well? We have no idea. The Wolfpack is 4-0 but wow, have they played no one.

Ohio State could crack back into the rankings next week as well if it can throttle a decent Cincinnati.

So if you’re keeping track, that’s three ranked Big Ten teams this week with four knocking on the door. Nice rally, fellas.

For those who are visiting our rankings for the first time, here’s a quick rundown of our philosophy. We began the season with no preseason rankings. Every team in the country was tied for No. 1. As the season plays out, our rankings will begin to resolve. Our goal is to break away from traditional ranking systems by not penalizing a team that has to come from outside the rankings to the top spot. Think of the Oklahoma team from 2000 that in retrospect was the best team in the nation all season, but had to climb from outside the preseason rankings to get a shot at playing for the national title game. How many teams have missed out on a shot at a title because of those preseason rankings? Stanford and Oklahoma State would have been glad to see us a few years ago, right?

On to the rankings:

 

1. TEXAS A&M (4-0)

Won at SMU 58-6

No change. Our reigning No. 1 kept its vice grip on the top spot with yet another dominating performance, albeit this one came against a lifeless corpse. Not really anything more to say about this one. After stunning South Carolina to open the season, the Aggies have been getting the second-stringers a lot of work against three inferior opponents. A surging Arkansas comes to town this week.

 

2. FLORIDA STATE (3-0)

Defeated Clemson 23-17 (OT)

Florida State climbs one spot. The Seminoles just passed pretty much their last conference test until the ACC championship, and did so without the reigning Heisman Trophy winner/jackwagon Jameis Winston. We’re still not buying whatever it is N.C. State is selling, but having to travel to Raleigh this week after an emotional win against Clemson could get interesting. But let’s be real – we’re all setting the snooze alarm until Notre Dame comes calling on Oct. 18.

 

3. ALABAMA (4-0)

Defeated Florida 42-21

Alabama climbs one spot. It really is a different Alabama team with Lane Kiffin calling plays on offense, isn’t it? The Crimson Tide has evolved into something of a passing team, despite the presence of a bruising pair of running backs. Blake Sims threw for 445 yards and four touchdowns this week. Those numbers are just stunning to see from a Nick Saban squad. Not to worry, though, because Derrick Henry still chomped the Gators for 111 rushing yards. So there’s that. Who doesn’t love watching Amari Cooper, by the way? It’s a good thing the Tide offense is firing on all cylinders because after this week’s bye comes a huge game at Ole Miss.

 

4. BAYLOR (3-0)

Did not play

Baylor drops two spots. Depending on what other teams do, you can get penalized in our rankings for taking a week off. Florida State and Alabama’s victories were impressive enough to push the Bears down the ladder due to Baylor’s relatively weak schedule. The Bears begin their Big 12 round-robin at Iowa State this week and this game can be dangerous. The Cyclones knocked off rival Iowa last week and like Baylor will have had a bye to prepare. We like what Mark Mangino is doing with the offense in Ames, so you can expect Baylor’s defense to be pressed.

 

5. AUBURN (3-0)

Won at Kansas State 20-14

Auburn climbs one spot. Anybody else not feeling all that great about Auburn occupying this spot right now? The resume is plenty strong enough to warrant this position, but the manner in which the Eagles came out of Manhattan does not inspire a great deal of confidence going forward. The Wildcats just gave the entire SEC a blueprint for throttling Auburn’s offense. When Kansas State wasn’t shooting itself in the foot or suffering from some truly rotten luck, it gave Auburn’s defense fits as well. The Eagles will have a layup this week against Louisiana Tech before things get really real with an Oct. 4 visit from a steaming bunch of LSU Tigers.

 

6. MISSISSIPPI STATE (4-0)

Won at LSU 34-29

Mississippi State climbs nine spots. Has Dak Prescott gotten your attention yet? He should have by now, especially after passing for 268 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 105 yards and another score in one of the most impressive victories by anyone this season. Prescott ranks fifth nationally among quarterbacks in rushing yardage, but not of the quarterbacks in front of him approaches his 964 passing yards to date. The LSU win was the opening salvo in a brutal three-game stretch for the Bulldogs. After a bye this week comes games against Texas A&M and Auburn, both at home.

 

7. OKLAHOMA (4-0)

Won at West Virginia 45-33

Oklahoma climbs six spots. It’s possible the Sooners are being undervalued at the moment by our rankings but it’s a resume issue that should resolve itself as the weeks advance. This week’s win at a very dangerous West Virginia goes a long way toward solidifying the resume. It was an impressive enough victory for ESPN’s voting bloc to push Oklahoma into the top spot in its power rankings. We say that’s a bit premature, but after a bye week, the Sooners will face TCU, Texas and Kansas State. By then, we should have a definitive answer.

 

8. OLE MISS (3-0)

Did not play

Ole Miss drops one spot. The Rebels were the biggest losers in cross-state rival Mississippi State’s big climb this week. They also were victimized by Oklahoma’s big road win. The high-octane air attack strafes Memphis this week before setting its sights on a juicy targets in the form of Alabama on Oct. 4 and Texas A&M the following week.

 

9. NOTRE DAME (3-0)

Did not play

No change. Whereas Baylor dropped a couple notches for inaction, Notre Dame stays put, thanks to LSU and Pittsburgh going poof in front of it. Poor Pitt’s loss was bad enough in our estimation to drop the Panthers completely out of the poll. A ho-hum visit from Syracuse is on tap this week, but we’ll be tuning in to the following week’s showdown with a Stanford squad that is eager to get back into the national conversation (and our rankings, for that matter).

 

10. BYU (4-0)

Defeated Virginia 41-33

No change. Taysom Hill is one of those quarterbacks ahead of Dak Prescott in the quarterback rushing statistics. Two impressive early wins on the road have been followed by two OK wins at home. Tricky Utah State is up next, but our long-term forecast for BYU looks a bit grim. There is very little potential for BYU to climb our rankings with a fairly wretched collection of remaining games. We fear it could be all downhill from here, even if the Cougs go 12-0.

 

THE REST OF THE BEST

 

11. OREGON (4-0)

Won at Washington State 38-31

Oregon climbs one spot. Well, winning ugly is still a win, right? Could be that Washington State is curing whatever is ailing it. We’ll see.

 

12. PENN STATE (4-0)

Defeated Massachusetts 48-7

Penn State drops one spot. Due to activity elsewhere in the nation, the Nittany Lions’ resume has been eroding. They’ll need to put up some quality Ws as Big Ten season gets under way in earnest.

 

13. ARIZONA STATE (3-0)

Did not play

Arizona State climbs three spots. Losses upstream have allowed the Sun Devils to float into a higher ranking this week, something many teams took advantage of, as you’ll see. With UCLA, USC and Stanford up next, Arizona State could continue to climb under its own power.

 

14. SOUTH CAROLINA (3-1)

Won at Vanderbilt 48-34

South Carolina climbs four spots. This might look like an unimpressive win, but remember it comes on the heels of an emotional and season-salvaging victory against a very, very good Georgia team. The Head Ball Coach quite clearly has himself an offense.

 

15. GEORGIA (2-1)

Defeated Troy 66-0

Georgia climbs four spots. The Bulldogs’ fate, generally speaking, remains attached to the Gamecocks and it’s difficult to say we’ll see any separation – barring a South Carolina loss – until the Bulldogs make consecutive road trips to Missouri and Arkansas in mid-October.

 

16. LSU (3-1)

Lost to Mississippi State 34-29

LSU drops 11 spots. The Tigers will have a get-right game against New Mexico State before traveling to Auburn on Oct. 4.

 

17. EAST CAROLINA (3-1)

Defeated North Carolina 70-41

East Carolina climbs six spots. Psst … check the Pirates’ remaining schedule … they may not lose another game!

 

18. NEBRASKA (4-0)

Defeated Miami 41-31

Nebraska drops one spot. The Cornhuskers are hovering in this part of the rankings for one reason – we have no real idea what to make of them or the Big Ten at this point. A road trip to Michigan State on Oct. 4 should provide clarity.

 

19. BOSTON COLLEGE (3-1)

Defeated Maine 40-10

Boston College moves up one spot. Meh. Wake us up in a couple of weeks when the Eagles travel to N.C. State.

 

20. USC (2-1)

Did not play

USC climbs one spot. Like Georgia is tied to South Carolina, so too is USC attached to Boston College. And it’s a domino effect from here, for Stanford isn’t ranked because of the loss to USC and USC’s subsequent loss to Boston College. That changes as the Pac-12 schools head into the meat of their schedule.

 

21. UCLA (3-0)

Did not play

UCLA climbs one spot. BYU is wreaking havoc on UCLA’s ranking. The Bruins very well could have been higher this week except for the fact the Cougars diced two of UCLA’s three teams to date in more impressive fashion.

 

22. MICHIGAN STATE (2-1)

Defeated Eastern Michigan 73-14

Michigan State was unranked. Sparty is back and with a wildly favorable schedule moving forward. It will be zero surprise to us if Michigan State climbs well into the Top 10 by season’s end.

 

23. ARKANSAS

Defeated Northern Illinois 52-14

Arkansas was unranked. Perhaps this is another nod to the Big Ten. Bret Bielema’s ground-and-pound Razorbacks have scored 49 or more points in three wins since a season-opening loss to Auburn. A death march awaits – Texas A&M, Alabama and Georgia. All three are at home, though, so there’s that.

 

24. UTAH (3-0)

Won at Michigan 26-10

Utah was unranked. After smashing two inferior foes, the Utes went on the road to the Big House and came out with an impressive victory. Up next is Washington State, which may or may not have gotten itself figured out.

 

25. GEORGIA TECH (4-0)

Won at Virginia Tech 27-24

Georgia Tech was unranked. Jury’s out on this one. Our No. 25 team each week has struggled to swim in the deep end of the pool (all of them have dropped out of our rankings). The Yellow Jackets will need to be impressive in coming weeks to hold off a host of teams lurking just outside this spot.

 

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